How I give ownership to my team

How I give ownership to my team

Have you ever wondered why a member of your team hasn’t done something you wanted, or perhaps they have, but you get the feeling that it’s been done with the least effort required to get the job done? I’m sure we’ve all been there. What I want to talk to you about today is how you can create an environment where people want to work for you and want take pride in their work. Its the ONLY way you can grow your business.

Over at Optix Solutions everyone we employ is awesome at their jobs. These are people who have studied the internet industry for many years (in some cases since it pretty much began). We have a group of guys and girls that are proud and passionate about what they do and how they can help their clients. These are people who don’t want to be told what to do, day in day out, with no input of their own. These are people who have a voice and a damn good one too. These are people who want to ‘own’ their work. And there lies the clue…

Ownership

There is a huge difference between giving someone a task or project and asking them to tell you when it’s done and giving someone ownership or responsibility for that task or project. I’ve found this out the hard way over many years. Here’s the difference:

Straight forward delegation of task:
I’ll ask one of my team to complete a task/project and tell them I need it finished by X date. They’ll take it on, complete it and deliver it back again by that date. This is fine and gets the job done but it’s not half as good as….

Giving ownership:
I will delegate in exactly the same way but I might use slightly different wording along the lines of, ‘I’d really like you to own this project, you’ve got the authority to make decisions on how it’s done (within boundaries of course) and the responsibility of delivering on X date lies with you’

You see the difference? The impact of this is huge. Why? Because everyone wants to feel wanted, like they have a purpose and ownership of something, like they come to work for a reason. They will take pride in what they do, they will ‘own’ it. What you’ll get back from your team if you start with this approach will exceed your expectations and people will fly.

I was putting together a blog post for the Optix blog recently about the team we have there and I asked everyone what they liked about working for the company. Here are a few choice comments I had back:

Nick – “Flexibility/freedom to use my initiative and be creative”

Kris – “we are all genuinely challenged to be the best we can be, and our Directors actively encourage us to be a part of the company”

Kris – “You’re not just allowed to have your say, you’re listened to. If something doesn’t work or could be done better for a client, you have the power to change it. When we do well we are rewarded and when we make mistakes we’re encouraged to learn from them”

Charlie – “You are encouraged to learn and grow outside of your specific role – this creates real job satisfaction”

Dan – “My input is taken on board and I am my own man”

Dan – “When working in other organisations it has been all too easy to blend into the background and not be a leader. Here at Optix I am encouraged to take control of my own destiny and make things happen. With that comes responsibility, but without great responsibility you cannot have great power! Even Spiderman knows that”

Rich – “We throw  a wicked xmas party!”

Ok, so maybe the last one has little to do with ownership but hey its true! :)

We understand at Optix that the company can only be successful if we have a team of people who are proud of who they work for, love coming to work and have ownership of the work they do.

How can you foster this environment with your team?

Now Your Thoughts

  • Do you give ownership to your staff? What has this brought you?
  • Do you have any further thoughts on how to get more from your team beyond this?

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8 Simple Steps to Email Marketing Loveliness

8 Simple Steps to Email Marketing Loveliness

Some of you might be wondering why I’m writing about email marketing today – it’s old hat isn’t it? With all this new social media buzz, there is surely no place in the world for email marketing is there? Well I believe there is and I intend to tell you why and how you can use it to grow your client base today.

Let’s settle one thing quickly – if you’re reading this, thinking about buying a database from someone on a street corner (or even  a more reputable source) then this article probably isn’t for you. I’m focusing today on using your own valuable data, built up over years possibly.

I want to start with a story. About a year ago a guy approached Optix having met me 6 years ago at a networking event. I’d agreed with him to receive the Optix newsletter and we both went our separate ways. Optix kept in touch with him by way of our monthly newsletter and recently he became one of our largest clients. He’d watched the business grow and liked what he’d seen.

Here are a few sure fire ways to use email marketing to help your business grow:

1). All about the data – A good email marketing campaign revolves around good data. Make sure yours is clean or you’ll just be throwing money away.

2). Build your data – what can you give away to build a database of leads/contacts/prospects? This year we launched our free social media policy generator: http://www.optixsolutions.co.uk/free-social-media-policy-generator/ – A tool of real value which also helps us build leads – true ‘Inbound Marketing’.

3). Split Test your email subject lines – A good email marketing system will split test campaigns for you. It will take 50% of your database and send two different subject lines, content variants or from names and then track the most successful delivery rate, then send the winner to the other 50% – using this will give you better open and click through rates.

4). Spam & Client Testing – Emails show up differently in different email clients. Now email is consumed more and more on mobile devices you need to make sure your email is designed and developed for all these variants. This again is something a good system should be able to do for you. If not, make sure you ask your designers to consider this.

5). Deal with bounces – If an email bounces (doesn’t reach its destination) it can be for a couple of reasons. A soft bounce may infer a problem with the routing of an email to someones email box/server and is likely to be ok next time round. A hard bounce means that email doesn’t exist any longer and should be cleaned from the database – no point spending money on people that won’t ever answer!

6). Use Autoresponders – When you signup to something on a site have you ever received an email a few days later which follows it up…and then again a week or so after that? You’re part of an autoresponder system. Clever marketers know that it takes a few ‘touches’ to get to a sale but tracking and sending emails to everyone that signs up with your site manually would be far too inefficient to deal with so autoresponders help to do this for you. Used cleverly, these are extremely powerful tools

7). Segment your data – If you’re blasting everyone in your database in one go you’re probably not getting the most from it. Segment your data into interests/purchases made if you’re running an ecommerce shop or even simple things like male/female if this makes a difference to your customer. For example, I’m not hugely interested in the latest dresses from Reiss (a favourite shop of mine) but they don’t send me that because I’m segmented in their database.

8). Tie into your Social Profiles – If you have a fantastic Facebook page and a tremendous Twitter presence then make the most of them. Ask people to sign up for your updates – if you don’t ask you don’t get after all. Don’t bombard them but a few calls to action every now and again is fine.

It’s time to get clever with your email marketing – it’s still one of the most powerful tools in the online marketing toolbox.

Oh and if you’re looking for a provider, we have our own that you can find out more about over at http://www.envirosend.co.uk

Image courtesy Ramberg Media Images

Now Your Thoughts

  • What’s worked or not worked for you when you’ve marketed by email?
  • Got any tips for the other readers?

Public Speaking – A Secret to Success

Public Speaking – A Secret to Success

I wasn’t able to get to my blog post on Friday last week due to a string of seminars I’m currently running. Unusually we had three turn up within a week of each other so I had to prioritise and I’m afraid the blog post lost out this once. That said, I’m catching up now and figured it would make a good topic if I wrote about how important public speaking is for my own strategy and how you should consider embracing it, if you aren’t already.

Seminars/Presentations, whatever you want to call them, are gold dust. If you’re given the opportunity to run one, grasp it. Where else do you get a number of people interested in your subject in a room together? If you run it well then you will undoubtedly come out with lots of opportunities and increase your chance of being approached to provide a service or product after.

I wrote about presentation skills a while back where I focused on ten strategies for a successful presentation. Today is more about re-enforcing the importance of being seen out there in order to build your personal and company brand.

I know it’s quite appealing to shy away from these opportunities – the thought of standing up in front of a load of people and talking fills most people with fear but here’s the truth – it get’s easier and you need to start somewhere. Still to this day I get a little nervous when I’m about to speak but it’s natural and helps me to fire on all cylinders. If you get nervous, don’t let it stop you – much better to learn how to control the nerves than miss out on the fabulous opportunities these events provide.

I started presenting at University as it was part of some of the courses. When I then started Optix I made sure that I had every opportunity to be in front of people, either one to one or in a group presenting. I was never a natural speaker so one of the best things I did to help was to join a business networking group called BNI. At BNI’s all around the world, you meet up every week and have to stand in front of 20-40 business owners and tell them about your business for 60 seconds. This really focuses the mind and hones your presentation skills. If you’re starting out now why not look up a local BNI chapter and throw yourself in at the deep end.

There are also organisations like Toastmasters which I’ve heard are excellent (Although I’ve not had first hand experience) – These focus on improving your public speaking skills so if you’re not sure where to start then I’d recommend looking up one of these in your area.

Here’s another great tip. I attend a number of conferences and always watch the speakers very carefully. I want to improve my own style so I try and capture the essence of where these people get it right and adapt it into my own flow. Recently I was lucky enough to watch Chris Brogan speak and then even luckier to sit next to him at a sponsors dinner that night. He was able to do 20 minutes off the cuff, without any help (no powerpoint) while making people laugh and leaving people with major takeaways by the end of his talk – genius! I asked him at the dinner how he did it and if he had any tips – he said to me something that resonates every time I find myself in front of others – ‘Alastair, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to fail’. Chris speaks hundreds of times a year, all around the world – that’s an awful lot of times to work out what works and what sucks – it’s that simple – practice makes perfect. Thank you Chris :)

How do you get on with public speaking? Do you avoid it? Are you working on any plans to improve yourself and want to share these with others?

My philosophy of how I treat my clients

My philosophy of how I treat my clients

We’re all in business because of our clients – if it wasn’t for them we’d have no orders and therefore no business.

Client interaction has always fascinated me, its something I’ve studied since I started my web design & online marketing business over 10 years ago.

Originally there were three directors at Optix. We formed quite a nice triangle of skills – James had the design ability, Dave had the development background and I was ‘the mouth’ that went out shouting about how great ‘I thought’ we were :). So I have spent the majority of my career since then interacting and engaging with thousands of people, hundreds of which have become clients (and I thank them for that)

So how do you treat your clients? Here’s what I do:

1). I try my utmost to understand what their needs and challenges are from the beginning – thats far more important than telling them what we do.

2). I learn about their business. I want to understand where they’ve come from and where they are trying to get to.

3). I learn about them as a person. Where possible I try and find out about their family/friends and interests. This gives us more to talk about and more to build a relationship on.

4). I work out which of our services would help them get to where they are aiming to go (remember point 1? :)).

5). I never sell something I don’t truly believe will help them on their journey.

6). I’m always looking out for opportunities to refer in other people I know to them where I see that value can be added.

7). I’m also looking for opportunities for the client to connect with other people I know.

8). I see every client relationship as a long term partnership. I know that if they are successful then I will be successful – this drives everything I do.

9). I care deeply about every client – if they are unhappy, I am unhappy and will go to every length to make sure balance is restored.

10). I don’t do 9-5 – If someone needs me, they will get me.

11). If we mess up, I own up.

Oh and here’s one from Chris Brogan (A legend in the Social Media world):

Make your customers feel special – treat them with the ‘guest experience’ – I love this and am working hard on this in 2010

Without clients (partners), my business doesn’t exist and nor does yours. So how do you treat yours?

How Optix Solutions does ‘People to People’

How Optix Solutions does ‘People to People’

Last week I wrote about People 2 People and Personal Branding. A few of you asked how we actually implement this in our businesses so I wanted to highlight this in today’s post – hopefully to give you some food for thought.

I’m going to use Olivier Blanchard’s (The Brand Builder) post on this for the structure of the post (hope you don’t mind Olivier :)) and expand on what we do in our main business – Optix Solutions.

Olivier highlighted 11 points that he felt every P-2-P business should have or at least work towards – let’s take them one at a time:

“1. The P2P business doesn’t hire though job sites or advertising. It hires by inviting candidates already connected to the company through social networks, both online and offline. “

I certainly can’t remember the last time we hired through advertising locally although I have to say that I’m not entirely on OB’s side here for Jobsites but the reason for that will become clear in the next few months. Yes, the old fashioned, faceless jobsite is a dying breed, but I think there might just be room for something new…more on that later :) The last few staff we’ve had at Optix have come through either social networks (or relationships built through social networks) or friends of the people that already work here. How great is that? One of my favourite things about recruiting is when one of the guys that works for me puts forward a friend that ‘really wants to work for Optix’ – that speaks volumes in my opinion.

“2. The P2P business no longer has a Director of Social Media, just like traditional B2B and B2C businesses no longer have a Director of Telephones: Social Media is completely embedded in the organization from an operational standpoint. What does that mean? It means that every department, from HR to Marketing to Product Development to Customer Service to Community Management uses Social Media the way they use any other tools and channels to do their jobs. “

Ok, so maybe we’re not quite big enough to have had an SM director in the first place, but that is probably my hat to be honest (I wear quite a few…and always look dapper ;). We have a number of staff with their own Twitter accounts/Facebook Pages/LinkedIn profiles and actively encourage this. The power in numbers through the business in incredible, all bouncing off each other, looking out for what each other is talking about on SM channels and all working together for the greater good of the company. I actively encourage my clients to consider use of SM in the same way at theirs.

“3. The P2P company doesn’t block FaceBook. The P2P company doesn’t block Twitter. The P2P company doesn’t block LinkedIn.  It doesn’t frown on access to community platforms like Ning. As a matter of fact, the P2P company helps its employees participate in online and offline networks more effectively through training and development instead of trying to insulate them from those “dangerous” online community platforms.”

I think I’ve highlighted this point above as well. Conversations actively go on (on a daily basis between staff about clever ideas for SM channels). We love it.

“4. Within the P2P business, the I.T. department no longer plays the role of cranky gatekeeper when it comes to adopting and deploying digital tools. The I.T. department has morphed into the T.E. department: Technology Enablement. Former I.T. professionals with passive-aggressive tendencies who get in the way of employees using the latest and most effective digital tools no longer have a place in the P2P Business. (Buh-bye. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way back to the ’90s.)”

Probably aimed more at the larger corporate here but once again, IT enablement is what it’s all about. I can’t understand those companies that block Facebook/Twitter etc on their networks – do they not realise that most of this SM stuff happens in the mobile space these days and they can’t block that?

“5. P2P Brand Managers are among the most sophisticated business strategists on the planet. No longer do they mostly be concerned with push messaging, self-serving marketing communications, trade dress and the ever ubiquitous logo redesigns. Their skillset has now exploded to meet the needs of an increasingly complex organization and marketplace.

  • They are now fluent in the four precepts of effective P2P program ownership: Development, integration, management (where monitoring lives) and measurement.
  • They are personally involved and invested in the communities that support and align themselves with the brand(s) they manage.
  • They are now equally involved in every step of the product lifecycle process, from ideation, design, development, manufacturing, testing, launch, and management.
  • They spend at least as much time in the world as they do inside the bubble of their corporate office, because they realize that is where their brand and products actually live.
  • Brand Managers are now mobile. They are cultural anthropologists as much as they are business managers. They look to free themselves from the corporate cocoon as much as possible to keep their perspective fresh and their insights untainted.
  • Brand Managers have become socio-cultural designers. Think about that for a minute and then think about it some more. This is key.”

We’re obviously in the slightly unique situation of working with brand strategists at other companies and so need to practice what we preach. We work with them to make sure the 4 P’s are ingrained in the strategy (In fact, we’ve worked with Olivier and Scott Gould at Likeminds to make sure our strategy offering is effective – we try where possible to practice what we preach)

“6. The P2P business understands how to smoothly blend campaigns with its daily mix of activities. Though it is naive to think that there is no longer a division between PR, Advertising, email marketing, web “marketing”, mobile marketing, customer support and community engagement, these roles and the deliverables they create work seamlessly together.”

As we’ve grown (From 2 to 13 in the last 6 years), we’ve gone through the silo effect and seen the damage this can cause. Dev not talking to Design, Design not talking to Sales, Sales not talking to anyone apart from their customers….you get the picture! Over the last few years we’ve done our very best to instil a culture of ‘team and family’ into the business. We have regular meetings where everyone thinks about client projects, we now have meetings with clients where everyone involved in the project is part of it so there is buy-in to the project. We’re not perfect yet but we’re working bloody hard to get there. :)

“7. The P2P business only uses corporate speak to make fun of corporate speak – and out of a sense of responsibility: Keeping that dying linguistic tradition alive will serve as a lesson to future generations that the world of gray cubicles, and cretinous business language almost destroyed business in the early 21st century. “

Not even going to expand on this one – The days of Gordon Geckko are no longer here…

“8. Employees of P2P businesses don’t hate their jobs. Why? Because they are empowered by their management team to collaborate with employees and the communities they touch. As a result of being clearly aware of their operational boundaries and because they receive ongoing, multilateral support from their organization, they know how to act professionally when dealing with the public.”

I think I mentioned this one earlier. When you have staff referring their friends to work for you, you’ve nailed it. After all, they wouldn’t be a very good pal if they got their mate into a business that sucked would they! We empower all our staff to ‘amaze clients where possible’ – That line is even in our staff benefits package because we want our staff to know that’s what’s important to us as a business…creating fantastic customer experiences.

“9. The P2P business no longer outsources its customer service. Period.”

We never did and we never will. Period :)

“10. The P2P business partners with like-minds. Put simply, it understands that the partners it aligns itself with say at least as much about its brand(s) as it does on its own. Even when partnerships are meant to be purely strategic or tactical, they signal an alignment of values that the marketplace (the community) is quick to take note of and interpret.”

Partners and Likeminds has been a personal goal of mine for 2010. I’ve spent a lot of time this year building relationships, strategic alliances and partnerships with some influential people and companies. As a business we recognise that the public perception of us is paramount to our success and the more people out there working with us on projects, the better. We started the Optix Inside Circle this year where we invited select partners (for strategic reasons) to a morning session where they could meet each other, network and then hopefully learn something of value for their own client base. The first event was very well attended locally and I’m looking forward to developing these events further this year.

“11. In case it wasn’t obvious: People would sell their grandmother to work there. Not just because the P2P company pays well (it might not) but because it is known to be a fantastic place to work, learn, and build lasting professional and personal relationships. People who work there are happier than most, professionally engaged and fulfilled, consider themselves successful (their definition may differ from yours), and wouldn’t dream of working anywhere else.”

This is certainly the feedback I’ve had from others…no doubt my wonderful team who are reading this will jump on me as soon as they pickup this RSS feed :)

Here’s to P-2-P Olivier – Thanks for your post.

Personal Branding in a ‘P2P’ World

Personal Branding in a ‘P2P’ World

After a couple of very hectic weeks and then a fantastic week’s holiday I need to get back into my regular Friday blog post. I intend to start that again today.

Just before I start, If you were confused by ‘p2p’ in the title it stands for People to People. More on that later.

I want to take a look at something that’s become very important to me recently – personal brand. In my opinion one of the biggest changes in marketing this last year or two (since social media) is the move from business brands to personal brands. There has been a lot of talk about whether you should promote your business through social media channels using a business account, or through personal accounts from staff within the company, or even a combination of the two. I’ve been sitting back studying the trends for quite a while now and have formed my own opinion on this given everything I know and have witnessed through the last year or two. I’m going to use Twitter for this post as it’s probably one of the easiest social media channels to look at.

So if you’re starting up a business or are simply just getting into Social Media how should you create your accounts? I believe there are a few good (not right or wrong) ways of doing this. My view is to research others then adapt these to my own requirements. Here are my recommendations for accounts to look at:

Take a look at the Ford US Twitter account – There is a guy called Scott Monty who heads up social media and under the Ford account, shares the responsibility for tweeting with a number of other staff there. They differentiate the tweets by using the ^ symbol followed by the initials of the staff member there. This has the immediate impact of personalising the brand. The bio clearly defines who does what so when communicating with them you feel like there is a personal touch (shown below):

“·  Bio Drive One. This account is run by @ScottMonty (^SM) & @GwenPeake (^GP), Digital Communications, @JWard35 (^JW) @MSchirmerFord (^MHS), Product Communications”

ASOS the famous online clothing retailer take this a step further and encourage staff members to have their own accounts, preceded with ASOS_ – They appear to then build their own networks while subtly promoting ASOS if there is the opportunity (but not shoving things down people’s throats). This is another great way of spreading a brand message using a personal touch.

Dell Outlet use Twitter for coupons and promo codes for their outlet store. They were famously one of the first major brands to come out in public with a true social media ROI. They have other accounts for customer service and engaging users although interestingly they appear to now be engaging much more on this Outlet account (maybe someone had a word!). There is speculation over whether a social network should be used for pure sales like this and I certainly wouldn’t advise you try this if you’re in an SME without brand power like Dell, but clearly its working for them so one to watch.

At Optix Solutions we have a number of accounts – The main Optix account is used to promote client websites, site launches and news from the business. It’s definitely been harder to build followers on this account but we do see it as another strand to the businesses marketing mix. We also do our best to show our business personality promoting things like new staff, goals, achievements and events that we put on – like #optixhatday (where all the staff had to wear a hat) and #optixhawaainday (where we dressed in colourful clothing because of the rubbish summer we had). We then encourage our staff to create their own accounts and build their own networks. This is really important as a business because of the power in numbers. The more people we are talking to locally, the more know us, the more likely we are to pick up the opportunity to quote on work as and when it happens. None of these accounts directly sell, they simply build relationships.

Olivier Blanchard (The Brand Builder) wrote a fantastic post on a new classification of business p2p (person to person).

I completely agree with Olivier’s post and am really looking forward to doing business in a new ‘p2p world’ but for these companies to exist and flourish it’s vital that some of the more old school way of thinking is put aside and staff are empowered to concentrate on their personal brands.

Aren Grimshaw of Tonick Media summed this up for me at the recent Likeminds event in Exeter. He said, ‘The simple way of describing the use of social media in businesses is to draw the analogy with the traditional village shop where you walked in and the owner knew your name, what you bought each time and probably asked how your partner and kids were at the same time’. It’s all about personal service and personal connections. Nail this and you’ll nail social media channels like Twitter :)

These maybe basic, but for the starters amongst you here are my ‘Banksy’s top 5 tips’ for working on your personal brand online:

1). Use a picture of your face on social networks – where possible use the same picture across the networks for consistency. Some people like to show themselves doing something they enjoy (like sport) – This is fine if you can see the face too. It’s important to personalise a medium which could be seen as fairly impersonal. Don’t hide behind a silly avatar. I like to recognise who I’m talking too and then when I meet them in real life I know instantly who they are.

2). Be likeable – This goes for all walks of life – on and offline but is so important. Consider what people say about you when you’re not in the room – if you’re not sure or are worried about this, you may just need to think about your attitude a bit and work on it.

3). Be Helpful – Don’t spend all day talking about yourself or trolling other people. No one likes listening to someone else go on about themselves all day or belittling others. Consider what you can do to help your friends, family and colleagues now. Go and do something memorable for them this minute. Give value without expecting anything in return – it’s a philosophy that will stand you in good stead. On social media platforms like Twitter you need to make sure you’re retweeting people, thanking them when they retweet you and point your followers in the direction of information they would find useful.

4). Mix it up – Business and Pleasure – In my opinion it’s much easier to relate to someone if they are a mixture of business and pleasure. It’s far easier to get on with someone if you can uncover things that they like to do outside work and perhaps common interests.

5). Attitude – Ok, so maybe this is covered by some of the points above but it’s just so important to everything you do and how far you’ll go. Do you wake up in the morning full of life, go to work and love what you do? Attitude is catching – make sure you surround yourself with positive people where possible, they will rub off on you and help you succeed. In the same way, negative people will drain you – rid your life of these people.

So if you’re going to be a p2p company as Olivier’s blog sets out, you need to make sure you and all your staff (if you have them) adopt these values early and make sure they are ingrained in the fabric of your organisation.

Bonjour

P.S. We’ve partnered with the forward-thinking team at Like Minds to produce a White Paper on how businesses are (or aren’t!) using Social Media and we would love for you to be a part of it! All you need to do is take a few minutes to fill out the survey here: http://bit.ly/9FUt8W.

p.p.s. If you like what you’ve read here then you should sign up to my RSS feed and every time I update this site the post will be sent to your reader automatically

7 Things a Startup Company Should Think About

7 Things a Startup Company Should Think About

This morning I was thinking back to when I started my web design business in Exeter and how much both the business and I had changed. Back then, there were three of us, all very wet behind the ears (that’s a really odd saying isn’t it!). We were at University at the time (Exeter) and all studying computer science. We had made a conscious decision to start a business but to be honest not really thought much about how or who we needed to talk to. We were lucky to have my Dad around who acted as a mentor and pointed us in the right direction but it got me thinking about other people not lucky enough to find good, trustworthy advice, so easily. There must be lots and lots of people in the same position as we were, at University or leaving school, thinking about starting up and having great ideas but not knowing where to start. I’m sure there are many great fledgling businesses stifled at this point which is a real shame. In this post I’m going to skirt over a few things we did when we started up – I’m hoping this will be useful to some of you out there in a similar position to me, 10 years ago. In future posts I may well delve deeper into certain areas but if you know of anyone thinking about starting a business from University or School then please send them in the direction of this post. :)

1). Come up with a company name – Might sound obvious but when you make a success of it then this will stick and be quite difficult to change. A lot of people ask me where the name Optix Solutions comes from and to be perfectly honest here is the answer:

  • 4 guys sitting in a university bedroom chatting about setting up in business
  • Probably a few beers had been sunk (we were students after all)
  • One said, ‘Web Design is quite visual’
  • Another said ‘Optical – that’s visual’
  • ‘Optical Solutions’ someone shouted out
  • ‘How about Optix Solutions – that’s a bit more street!’

So there you have it – easy as that! Now as it happens I quite like our name and its worked well for us but given the chance again I probably would have put some more thought into it and considered the future when it started to become a known name in our town – I’d urge anyone going through this process to do the same.

2). Register your domain name – I pondered over which should come first – this point or the next. I decided on domain names because of the difficulty of getting good ones these days. In an ideal world your domain name would:

  • Be Short(ish) – although almost every permutation of 3 and 4 letters have been taken
  • Protect your brand – register .com / .co.uk / .net and any other relevant endings for your type of business
  • Try and avoid hyphens where possible – they are difficult to spell out over a phone and confuse people
  • Not point traffic at competitors or unsavoury sites – If you can’t get all the endings for a domain you want, make sure you check what is on the ending that’s already registered. Users make mistakes and you want to see what site you’ll be sending traffic too – I’ve seen some terrible examples of this happen to people I know

If you’re not sure on domains then take advice and talk to people that know about them. At Optix we regularly advise on domains and register on our clients behalf. Give our office a call on 01392 667766 if you want some friendly help.

3). Register your company name – Once you have the name you should probably do a few things based on where you want to take the business. I’m a firm believer in starting by creating a limited company where you’re protected as the business owner. You probably don’t know if you’re going to make a success of it, so the more protection the better. If you’re on a shoestring, then you might not be able to afford to speak to Solicitors at this stage, but in an ideal world you’d want to check there are no trademarks or other legal issues you could come up against later, when you become well known. A solicitor will be able to run quick checks on names to let you know whether this is likely to be an issue. As a startup I never saw the importance of this but as I’ve become more business savvy and seen examples of people having to change brand and company names that they’ve poured thousands and thousands of pounds into, because they never made these checks, I now understand the need for it. Registering a company name is something you need to do at Companies house – there are plenty of agents out there that will do it all for you for about a hundred quid – We used a company called Jordans who were excellent.

4). Find a good Accountant/Bookkeeper – The number of small business owners that I meet that try and do their own books and accounts is unbelievable! Why would you do that? It’s hard enough running a business as it is without then having to work out a whole new world of numbers that go with it. Oh, and then there’s the small point about getting it wrong as well. You don’t want that to happen or you could end up with all sorts of problems to deal with. There are plenty of fantastic bookkeepers and accountants around who are setup to help start-ups. You won’t need someone in full time, you’ll probably only need that person one or two days every week/month at first, to enter data and help with things like Tax and VAT. For under £20 an hour (bookkeeper) that is money well spent in my opinion and one I truly feel any small business needs to budget for. Accountants are more expensive and I would advise trying to find one you can pay for monthly rather than getting lumbered with a large bill when accounts come round each year – this will help cash flow and save you from a yearly heart attack each time you file your accounts.

5). Find a good Solicitor – Like Accountants, Solicitors are a necessity for some things. You can probably word your own terms and conditions and contracts if you want but you’ll be on thin ice if anything happens and you need representation. When you get into the world of leasing or buying, you’ll have to employ a solicitor to assist you anyway. My advice is get in with a firm early. There are lots of firms out there who will offer you 30mins to an hour free and my advice would be to go and speak to a few and choose someone you like and has a good reputation. We work with a firm call Ashford’s whose head office is in Exeter but they work all around the world. The guys at Ashford’s are fantastic and I can recommend them wholeheartedly – They’ve acted for me on a number of things, all business related.

6). Talk to local business advisors – Some love em, some loathe them, but my experience of organisations like Business Link has been relatively positive. Find a good advisor at this organisation and they will really help you succeed in business and here’s the best thing for you start-ups – its FREE! Yes the magic word! Because of the fact its free they are usually stacked out which is why I always recommend you find yourself  mentor as well and pay them (See this post about mentoring). Give Business Link a call and they will help signpost you if they can’t answer questions themselves.

7). Find a good Bank Manager – Notice how I say Bank Manager and not just Bank? Your relationship with your bank manager will be critical to your success. You never know when you’ll want that overdraft extended or perhaps the limits on your card increased, or even just a better rate on something. Well this will almost certainly come down to your relationship with your bank manager. Go to each bank and spend some time with the commercial managers there and choose on relationship and gut feel (throw in some sense on what they are offering too of course). We love our bank manager at Optix (bet you don’t hear that said very often!) – If you’re in Exeter then I would be delighted to make the introduction to him should you so wish.

It’s funny how things flow back to you when you start writing about the past. Start-up can be a really exciting time – just make sure you’re not too proud to get as much advice as possible and soak it all in. As ever, I wish you the best of luck.

Is your marketing material all about you?

Is your marketing material all about you?

I learnt a valuable lesson about marketing once which fundamentally changed the way I view the composition of marketing material for my businesses. This was the lesson: It’s not about me/my business, it’s about the needs of my prospective clients. Sounds simple doesn’t it, but it’s all to easy to talk about yourself when putting together this material. I challenge you to look at your own material now (yes this minute – go and grab it) with a subjective head on and consider how it would read to someone you want as a client. Have you told them how great you are? Have you told them how much experience you have, how many years you’ve been in business and the fact that you’re one of the best in your area at what you do? Is this the main message? Guess what? Your prospective clients don’t care. They have their own issues, their own challenges and their own needs to satisfy. They don’t care if you’ve got over 50 years combined experience in your market, they probably don’t care if you are the number one company offering XYZ in your area! These maybe useful to know and perhaps you should have these as after thoughts but they shouldn’t be your main message. What you actually need to do is define the audience you’re trying to reach, why they might need to buy what you offer and then heres the clincher – solve their problem for them (or at least tell them that you can solve it somehow).

When you start thinking about marketing like this, it requires a different style of thinking, a different outlook on the production of this important material. In my opinion there are far too many companies out there simply ticking a ‘marketing box’. They produce some material saying how great they are, they send it out either electronically or via snail mail and then saying ‘Yeah good job guys, that’s the marketing bit done’. They then wonder why they are not getting results and why the phone is not ringing off the hook. Next time you’re putting together something which is marketing your business, try and think of how it will be viewed in terms of the buyer. If you’re like me then I’m sure that everyday you gets lots of letters, glossy flyers and brochures across your desk – how many of these end up in filing cabinet Z (The bin)? A large proportion I’ll wager? Now think about what made you pull that one thing aside to actually spend some time looking at? I bet it added value for you in some way, or helped towards, or claimed to be able to solve a problem you have? The success in direct mail and e-marketing can be quite low so you need to make sure you make it work for you. It can be expensive after all. If you’re looking for inspiration then I can thoroughly recommend signing upto the Glazer Kennedy Insiders Circle. These guys are legends at preparing marketing material which really works. You can also check them out on their Facebook page or follow Mara Glazer on Twitter. You won’t be dissapointed.

One last tip – Not all of us are or ever will be marketers so when you produce drafts for your next brochure of sales flyer, try sending it out to friends and colleagues who could be potential buyers and ask theem to be as constructive as possible. Be prepared to have it ripped apart and get ready for the critiscm – Don’t get defensive if its not what you want to hear – after all you don’t want to send out something that’s going to get you nowhere do you? The end result will be a more successful campaign and hopefully better conversions into real business.

Most importantantly – Have Fun :)

Intelligence the Key to Taking E-Commerce That Step Further

Intelligence the Key to Taking E-Commerce That Step Further

Sorry for missing yesterday’s post folks. I referenced a mastermind group I’d setup with a few other business owners in Devon in my post earlier this year – well yesterday we descended on Bovey Castle on Dartmoor – a truely inspirational venue, perfect for reflection on business and setting goals for the future. I’m now fully energised again and ready to work at my optimimum level again.

This weeks post was originally written for The Web Squeeze a few weeks ago and has been received really well so I thoughtmy iambanksy readers might like to read it. Enjoy.

Conversion rate optimisation (CRO) is the driving force, the buzzword that gets e-commerce specialists excited, and the latest online market figures make it easy to understand just why.

2008 saw a single year increase in online sales of 16% across the market. Since 2000, Internet sales have risen by 3,500% to £42bn and it’s expected that by 2010 this figure will have climbed to a staggering £72bn.

Statistics like these prove that traditional concerns around issues such as security, limited or inaccurate product information and delivery logistics are on the wane and shows just how vital it is to business to put themselves in a position to capitalise to the full.

However, this is also about a seismic shift in consumer habits on the back of an ever more sophisticated online culture. Our confidence in, and dependence on, online technologies, from desktop computers to mobiles and handhelds, is greater than it has ever been before.

Forward thinking businesses are recognizing this and also realising that the disciplines of analysis and adjustment associated with CRO are techniques just as relevant in all areas of measuring the success of a web presence. Each business is unique, and what works for one may not work for another.

Nothing should be left to assumptions. Don’t assume something is working – measure, analyse and build until you are sure it does.

In a large competitive market, just a fractional increase in market share can represent a significant boost to profits.

The e-commerce ‘boom’ showed how incredibly easy it is to establish an online shop, just as the subsequent bursting of the e-commerce ‘bubble’ demonstrated the harsh realities of creating a success of one.

CRO is more likely to become achievable if a business understands that their online stores have a much greater value than simply being a means of processing direct online sales.

The key to making the very most of your online store is to make it ‘intelligent’. There are an ever increasing number of excellent analytic tools that can provide the sort of data and insights on customer habits and regular reviewing of this allows the online store to tell you its own weaknesses to be corrected and strengths that can be built on as part of ongoing optimisation strategies.

Those who treat an online store simply as a static sales point are missing a huge opportunity to generate fresh sales from new and existing customers.

The journey between an initial visit and a completed sale can yield a great deal of information about your customers, their habits, where they came from, their likes and dislikes and ultimately what their experience of engaging with your business online is like.

A clearly focussed and customer-driven online store is vital in building brand loyalty and staying ahead of the competition. The bottom line is that those who engage in the changing dynamics of selling online will generate more revenue than those who do not.

If analytic data from your online store is going to have any genuine value it must be built on firm foundations, in other words, the fundamental basics of an online store need to be in place.

Using analytics for conversion optimisation is about fine-tuning and development, and you can’t fine-tune or develop a model that does not work in the first place.

Begin at the beginning, even if you have a well-established website, or sites, already. Make sure that usability is and remains at the heart of it. A small adjustment that enhances your customers experience of using the site may pay big dividends. Again, we go back to the mantra – measure, analyse and build.

Product information pages and purchasing forms must load quickly and be easily navigated. Forms and payment fields should be clearly titled and constructed and display essential information on the likes of shipping and billing in a prominent, logical, and easy to follow way.

There should be as many secured payment options as possible and plenty of calls to action. There is no point in having fantastically engaging sales pages if the customer can’t find the ‘checkout’ or ‘add to basket’ buttons.

If the online store satisfies these basic requirements then the data it yields can give you genuine insight into your customer‘s journey though your online store. From it you can act on two distinct fronts; optimising conversion and increasing sales through some seriously targeted marketing.

The essence of conversion optimisation is no great mystery. The point is to guide as many people as possible all the way to clicking the ‘place order’ button as smoothly as possible, at the same time ensuring that by the end of the process your brand and products have been enhanced in the customers’ eyes.

If they have arrived via a search engine, knowing the key phrases they used to get to you is invaluable in building effective Search Engine optimisation strategies and content. If they have followed a link from elsewhere – supplier database, social network, customer’s website etc… – you should know exactly where and how.

There is no better test of the robustness of your sales process than looking at customer abandonment. Latest data capturing techniques can model the journeys of all those who visit your site and show you exactly at what point during that journey they jump ship.

Armed with this information you can revisit this part of the site, take some independent soundings as to why it isn’t working (sometimes you are too close to the whole thing to see what might be obvious to an outsider) and tweak as necessary until the results improve. Every obstacle removed smoothes the path to higher sales.

The data your online store can provide is also invaluable when it comes to joining up and targeting marketing campaigns and strategies.

A proven way of retaining existing customers is ‘right touch’ marketing – complementing online advertising by introducing new products or services to specific customers who have bought or registered an interest in related items. Think along the lines of Amazon’s highly success ‘Customers who bought this also bought these’.

Going a step further, you can also introduce VIP shopping for regular retail and wholesale customers, an excellent means of increasing sales while imbuing a sense of exclusivity in the brand.

New product or service launches can be targeted at an audience who have already demonstrated interest in a particular area of your business. All this information can be provided by your online store if you make use of the ever growing number of analytic tools that make it an intelligence gatherer and provider rather than simply a processor of credit card details.

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If you enjoyed this article you may well be interested in a fantastic article our head of development at Optix Solutions wrote on the use of voucher codes in ecommerce.

Presenting – Pleasurable or Painful?

Presenting – Pleasurable or Painful?

As an entrepreneur or business owner you’re going to find yourself in positions where you are presenting – Fact. This could be for any number of reasons including raising finance, selling a service/product or simply marketing your business. At Optix Solutions, a large part of our marketing plan is devoted to giving seminars & talks where we aim to educate and give our audience value while not over selling our services. No one likes to be sold to, it’s important therefore that our presentation skills are good. I never stop learning this subject – there is always room for improvement.

Over the last 10 years I’ve provided countless seminars and presentations for pitches, so today I thought I’d share with you my ten strategies for a successful presentation.

1). Watch Others – I’ve learnt more from watching engaging speakers and noting down things they do, than from reading any written material on the subject. Find motivational speakers and absorb everything they do; how they move, what they say and how they interact with the audience. I strongly suggest looking up conferences that have good keynote speakers – Seth Godin (marketing guru) is as good a start as any. There are lots of videos of him on YouTube.

2). The Fear – You’re afraid right? Yeah, most people are but a bit of fear can go a long way (did I just make that saying up?). Seriously though, some nerves can be a good thing; they heighten your senses and pump adrenaline round your body, allowing you to work at an optimum level for the time you are presenting. Admittedly, if they are completely overwhelming it might be wise to work on them with a professional, especially if you’re going to be presenting a lot. There are loads of tactics for getting over nerves but the one I use is to keep reminding myself that the people I’m presenting to are only human – they got up that morning and pulled their socks on just like I did! It’s amazing how that Board Director or Chairman just suddenly got a lot cuddlier.

3). Prepare – The old faithful – “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” Benjamin Franklin. I would never dream of rocking up to a seminar or presentation unprepared, it’s asking for trouble. Make sure you’ve rehearsed a few times and you know the length of time you’ll take. Obviously this should fit in nicely with the time slot you’ve been given. I also try and second guess some of the questions that could be coming at me if it’s a Q & S format so I’m as ready as I can be for them. Be careful however, not to ‘over prepare’, you don’t want to be reading parrot fashion off slides if you can help it and sometimes if you rehearse too much that’s what can happen. I usually run through a presentation twice before hitting the main event for real.

4). Turn up early – There is nothing more stressful than rocking up to something you’re speaking at late, not to mention how unprofessional it looks. Make sure you are there well in advance of the first attendees and ready to setup. You know it’s not going to be simple to connect your laptop to that projector, so why leave it till the last minute? Turning up early also allows you to work out the room: What the acoustics are like, how the seating is laid out, the lighting and anything else that could put you off or make you uncomfortable in your presentation.

5). Summarise your presentation early on – Telling your audience what you are going to talk about upfront is beneficial as it sets the scene and their expectations. Always begin with what you’re going to cover later and keep it simple as possible. If you’re making a short presentation then try and keep it to only a few points.

6). Aim your presentation at your audience, not yourself –
Although you could be an amazing keynote speaker that people would pay to come and watch, I’m guessing that like me, most of my readers will be using presentations to build their personal or company brands in one way or another. If this is the case then remember one thing – your audience want solutions to their problems and needs – they don’t want to hear you babble on about how amazing you are and how great your services could be for them – aim the material at their needs. Understand your audience before the presentation if possible.

7). Long Wordy Slides? No Way Jose! – Long slides with lots of boring text won’t be remembered. If you’ve prepared well, as I mentioned earlier, then you should be able to talk around the content of a slide. Less, in my opinion, is better. In fact, this last year I’ve watched many more presenters using single slides with just one graphic (we all know that visuals work well – picture/thousand words blah blah blah) and a one or two liner to bring home their points. These are fantastic and certainly a route that I intend to adopt on my quest for better presentation skills in the future.

8). Humour – Try, where possible, to inject humour into your presentation. This will break down the barriers with your audience and engage them more. Once your audience is laughing it will help no end with those nerves I mentioned earlier. People connect with humour, if you’re struggling, then why not get others to look over your work and see if they can see opportunities for the occasional jokey image or funny reference. A caveat here though – be careful with humour and public speaking – the last thing you want to do is offend your audience. Steer clear of taboo subjects for jokes.

9). Connect with your audience – No-one wants to listen to a boring, stiff, monotone presenter. The best speakers I’ve seen work the room – it’s an art I tell you. At the most simple level make sure you connect (eye line) with as many people as possible. Focusing on one individual will alienate the rest of the room. If you want to take that a step further and feel comfortable doing so, then engage with a few people one on one (and by name if poss). If you aim a question at one or two people you’d be amazed what that does to the rest of the audience – they soon start listening, thinking it could be them next! I always try and move about a little in order to inject a bit of life into my talks (I have a habit of pacing) – I also use hand gestures as much as possible to control the room (one very effective one is to put your own hand up when you want others to respond in the same way). If you are going to pace about, then it’s good that you got there early so you can test if your shoes will make a distracting noise on the floor – I kid you not, it’s one of the first things I look for. :)

10). Be unique – You want to be remembered don’t you? You didn’t just get up and spend all that time in front of that frightening audience for nothing did you? Do something unique if possible – give value away where you can (especially if it allows you to follow up after the event). If there’s a call to action for your audience, make sure they know what it is. Thank them for listening.

Although I wouldn’t say that I’m an expert, I’ve learnt a lot about presenting and public speaking in the last 10 years – I’m fascinated by the art of it and intend to continue honing my skills over the rest of my business life. I hope this article will help a few people with their own fears or questions about the subject. Good luck…